Ship's Log               s/v Uliad 


November 1:


     We left our slip in Opua just a bit after the official noon check out time.  By then the wind had picked up and our attempt to stop at the fuel dock was most un-graceful.  My official explanation was that the wind shifted about 90 degrees between our slip and the fuel dock and as a result, was pushing our bow onto the dock instead of off the dock as I was anticipating.  With no bow thruster, Uliad is a lot of boat to handle shorthanded in tight quarters and with nobody to help us on the dock, we gave up after two tries and decided to get fuel down in Whangarei instead.  So just when I was thinking how we were such big shot sailors crossing the Pacific Ocean and all, I found myself steaming out of Opua harbor, glancing around and hoping that nobody saw my laughable display of boat handling skill, while Kathleen robustly reminded everyone within earshot what morons we are (meaning I am).

     The trip to Whangarei turned out to be a long motorboat trip over flat calm seas, which gave everyone a chance to relax and the subsequent docking experience at the fuel dock at Marsden Cove Marina turned out to be picture perfect.  By the time the boat was fueled up and we had each gotten breakfast at the marina cafe, the tide was perfect for our trip upriver.

     Whangarei lies a good 7 miles upriver from the ocean, and a boat with our draft needs to be mindful of only coming or going at high tide.  I noted that the shallowest spot we saw on our trip upriver was 10 feet.  But with a 7 to 8 foot tidal range, that means it would have been only 2 feet deep there at low tide!  We parked the boat at Riverside Drive marina--perfectly again much to the surprise of my skeptical wife so I once again felt confident in my boat handling and could attribute Opua to an unusual atmospheric event.

    Emmett's favorite holiday is Halloween, which is not widely celebrated here in New Zealand.  Undaunted, he put together a passable "Army Man" costume from his closets and a nearby second-hand shop.  We rented a car for a few days and drove up to Kerikeri where the Meske kids and Emmett found a neighborhood populated by enough ex-pats to stage a small trick-or-treating party.  Em even ended up winning a prize for the most creative costume!   


November 4:

     We were determined to make maximum use out of our rental car, so after a late return from the Halloween festivities, we turned around and headed south to Auckland the following day.  As Auckland is a major port for yacht refitting, we had a number of places to shop at.  But I felt a little bad for Emmett.  What kid wants to be dragged around to shop for new blinds for a boat?  So for lunch I didn't argue when he wanted to eat at the revolving restaurant atop the "Sky Tower".  In addition to the nice meal, we got a great view of the city and even a bungee jumper who took a leap as we were finishing up.

     In Fiji, we met a very nice New Zealand family whose kids have been keeping in touch with Emmett by email.  When they heard we were coming to Auckland, they were so generous as to invite us out to their country home for the night.  The Harnetts treated us to a great meal and their kids and Emmett played all evening.  The next morning, Emmett even got taken to his friend's school to tell the kids all about his ocean adventures.  All in all, I think he packed in so much fun that Em could barely complain when we went back to Auckland for a few more hours of boat shopping before driving home.

     Driving in New Zealand has been quite an adventure.  First remember that we haven't been driving anything but a dinghy for 6 months.  Then add the fact that they drive on the "wrong" side of the road here, so every time we turn the corner, someone has to shout out "To the left!  To the left!"  like we're Beyonce or something. The roads are all narrow and curvy and of course they had nothing to rent us but this big Nissan station wagon.  Instead of squared off intersections, there are all these roundabouts where it always seems to take an instant's hesitation to recall who has the right of way.  Over all it's a miracle that we still haven't crashed.  And even though the driving has started to become more routine, both Kathleen and I constantly catch ourselves opening the left front door, only to realize that there's no steering wheel there.  Kathleen at least can pretend that she simply meant to set her purse there.  I find myself furtively glancing around to see if anyone in the parking lot noticed as I quickly walk around to the correct side of the car.


November 6:

     Let me tell you a bit about the boat projects we've been working on.  Every time we end a season of cruising, it seems there's a big list of small repairs needing attention.  This is even more true now.  Not since Trinidad have we been in a major refitting port where everyone speaks English.  Some things just couldn't be done last year in Tahiti or Raiatea, so it will be nice to finally get everything accomplished.

     We chose to park the boat in Whangarei for several reasons.  It's a blue collar town filled with mechanics and carpenters and the like, as well as a fairly good sized marine industry.  There are certainly more shipwrights and marine services in Auckland, but the dockage fees there are quite a bit higher.  Because of the lower prices, lots of foreign yachts come to Whangarei, so we have plenty of other cruisers here to keep us company.  So far, everything has been shaping up nicely here for having what we need.

     There were three critical issues to be dealt with as soon as the lines were tied:  First, I could hear a bubbling sound coming from somewhere behind the stove every time I turned the gas solenoid on.  This has been going on ever since our rough passage down here and could only mean one thing:  the copper gas line that runs from the propane tank at the stern to the back of the stove has started to leak back in some inaccessible space.  I quickly learned that propane lines can only be worked on in New Zealand by a licensed "gasfitter".  A few phone calls later and I had learned something else:  gasfitter hate to work on boats.  Eventually the marina owner called and twisted the arm of one guy to come and help us.  He protested that yachts that need gas line repairs are usually old, improperly fitted, and their owners don't want to pay what it costs.  Ray promised that our boat was nice, and we would reliably pay him on Ray's guarantee.  He was here in 20 minutes and confirmed what the problem was.  He seemed pretty determined not to spend his day crawling around the boat running a new gas line though.  He just told me that I'd need to trace the line, measure the exact amount of new line we needed, and he'd return later.  I don't think he expected to hear from me for the rest of the week. 

    Aaah but the folks at Kanter Yachts knew what they were doing when they ran the gas line down a PVC conduit from the stern locker all the way to the galley.  In 10 minutes I had run my fish tape down the whole length with a measuring tape attached and I called the gas fitter to come right back with 10 meters of gas hose.  Given that the old copper line had corroded after 15 years in that damp conduit, we went with flexible gas hose this time.  By the end of the day Kathleen was safely heating her tea with our newly installed gas line. 

     The second red flag project called for an electrician.  Fortunately this was easier to find than a gasfitter.  In the Americas and the Caribbean, 110 volt power is the standard, but the rest of the world uses 220.  So at first I assumed we needed an additional power transformer or a separate 220 volt battery charger, but after a little research, it turned out that a simple cable adapter and a New Zealand style shore plug worked fine as the isolation transformer aboard Uliad already was set up to deliver the correct 110 volt power to the panel.  After months and months of regularly keeping an eye on battery charge, conserving power religiously, and running the noisy generator regularly, it seems downright luxurious to plug into shore power again.  The lights can stay on generously, the fridge stays cold effortlessly, and things can be plugged in any time!  The same is true for water:  no more noisy water maker to run and full water tanks are only a hose length away at all time.  Funny how little things like that can make you feel like you've got a suite at the Ritz.


November 7:

     For the most part, I have nothing but compliments for the builders of Uliad; but in the past year a serious design flaw has appeared.  In a hard to access place beneath my closet, they installed a steel electrical junction box and attached it to an aluminum stringer on the hull.  So eventually the steel started to rust, the rust peeled the paint on the junction box, and iron came in direct contact with aluminum leading to electrolysis of the hull.  When we hauled out last year in Raiatea, my investigation of a paint bubble below the waterline led to me being able to poke a tiny hole through the aluminum plate! 

     The "jungle repair" in Raiatea was to have a welder tack a double thickness aluminum plate to repair the hull.  But that rusty junction box was still in there with all sorts of wires running through it.  I didn't want to tackle the slow process of cutting the box apart and repairing any wires that had to be cut in the process until we were somewhere that I wouldn't have to worry about running out of wire crimping parts...or about getting hauled out right away if it proved necessary.  It was slow, messy work through a narrow access panel and I didn't mind a bit turning over the whole project to the same marine electrician who hooked us up to shore power.  Thankfully it came out without too much difficulty and the hull behind it looks to have been well repaired.  So we won't have to haul out after all.  I'll sleep a lot better knowing that the rusty junction box problem has been resolved.

     So I've been busy working on these problems, as well as attending to all the routine maintenance that all the boat's systems need before putting her in storage.  After all the mechanical problems we had last year, we decided to keep Uliad in the water this year and hire a guy to come and run the engines a couple of times a month.  Hopefully this and the drier environment here will avoid the problems we had coming back to Raiatea.  Then there's a long list of other smaller projects needing attention:  the sealed bearings on our roller furling unit have leaked out their lubricant, so the bearings need to be replaced.  Several hydraulic rams are leaking small amounts of hydraulic oil--time for a rebuild.  Then there's a big shopping list of parts and bits and lines and such for us to work through...

     Meanwhile, Kathleen has been equally busy with other boat projects.  Several deck leaks led to water damage to the wood paneling inside the cabin, so Kathleen has been talking to carpenters and getting quotes for the work.  It will definitely be easier for everyone if we get these repairs done while we're not living onboard at the same time, so we hope to have someone lined up to start as soon as we've flown home.

     Also on the list for interior repairs are the re-upholstery of the settees in both the saloon and the dining area, as well as replacement of the headliner that has started to sag badly.  Interior design is something Kath is really good at so I have no problem with turning her loose with books and books of fabric swatches to do whatever she thinks best.  In addition, the window shades in the main saloon are way overdue for replacement.  They're made especially for yachts and cost like they were made of gold, but they've been stained and mildewed from ever since we bought Uliad, so we really can't put it off any longer now that there's an Oceanair blind agent right here in Auckland.  Then when we took the old blinds down to be measured, we realized that the aluminum window frames behind it really need to be repainted, too.  So now I'm in the midst of the long messy process of scraping, sanding, etch priming, priming, and finally painting these areas.

    And among all this boat project chaos, we finished up our homeschool lessons with Emmett for the year, too.  We'll start his next school year when we get back to the USA, but in the mean time,  Emmett has been riding his scooter over to the skate park that's only a block away from the marina.

    Going back to work as a doctor might feel like a vacation compared to this, but working on Uliad is always a labor of love and I never seem to get tired of it.  Well, almost never.



November 15:


     Returning home to the USA is always a bit disorienting at first.  After months of languid tropical days spent lounging in the sun, we're suddenly thrown headlong into a world of crowds, rushing cars, and fully scheduled days.  I've come to expect this and approach it as one might approach a freeway onramp at rush hour:  Take a deep breath, check for an opening, and then start running top speed like everyone else around you.  I had been preparing myself for this on the long flight home from New Zealand and it seemed to have worked.  Or perhaps landing in a country like New Zealand where there are modern cities and modern traffic helped ease the transition.

     In any event, I hit the ground running in LAX and successfully navigated a tight connection to Denver where my brother was waiting outside the baggage carrousel.  I had a few days to dig through our boxes of stuff in the basement and pack a bag of work clothes, buy some warm winter boots and a few other things, re-activate my I-phone and get back to the airport. 

     A year ago my plan was to find a job in New Zealand.  The country is badly in need of doctors, so I figured that by the time we sailed there to escape the cyclone belt for the season, I'd have something lined up so we could live on the boat in a marina, make some money, and have a great cultural experience all at the same time.  It turned out that this would have been a great plan except for the fact that it's really difficult for a foreign doctor who doesn't work full time to get a New Zealand medical license.  It's pretty easy if you've worked full time for at least 2 out of the last 3 years.  Any less than that and it gets complicated.

    So then I turned my sights to Australia.  Physicians are paid better there anyway so I did all the paperwork to get an Australian Medical License only to find that there are enough challenges to getting an employer to sponsor my work visa that nobody wanted to hire me unless I'd commit to at least a year of working.  My pleas that the cyclone season is only 4-5 months long fell on deaf ears and it was about this time that I saw an advertisement in a medical journal back in the states looking for someone with exactly my skills for exactly the time we'd be waiting out the hurricanes.   One thing led to another and before you knew it here I was rushing my way to my new temp job in Juneau, Alaska. 

    Yup, that's right.  After a long pleasant season in the tropical South Pacific, I was on my way to spend the winter in Alaska...on the exact opposite corner of the Pacific Ocean, in the little coastal capital city of Juneau. I didn't know what to expect but knew that I could put up with anything for a few months as long as I knew when it would end and that I'd be sailing again when it did.  I wasn't sure how we'd all react to so few hours of daylight each day or being so isolated in a town whose roads all end only a few miles out of town.  But we've lived in cold weather before and we've made this crazy transition before and somehow I'm sure that everything will come out fine.

    So once again, our sailing blog will have limited entries for the next few months.  I make it a point not to talk about the details of work here--after all this is a blog about sailing and family travel, not medicine.  But I will try to let you all know once and a while what it's like for us living in Alaska. 


November 20:

     My first impression of Alaska happened as I was boarding the flight in Seattle.  It occurred to me that everyone else boarding the plane LOOKED Alaskan.  They were all rugged, flannel wearing types who had no fear of cold, hard work, or fashion trends.  I looked down humbly at my polished wingtips and dry cleaned slacks and thought that I may not look it right now on my way to my first day of work, but soon I will be an Alaskan, too.

    I was met at the airport and brought to my new residence:  a beautiful, spacious, waterfront lodge-style home overlooking a salt marsh and a stunning vista of snow peaked mountains on the horizon.  (Perhaps that's Russia in the distance?)  I have a hard time keeping my mouth closed because of all the jaw-dropping natural beauty everywhere in Juneau.  I fired up the furnace and then got a tour of the clinic where I'll be working before I was turned loose in the wilderness, so to speak.  I stopped at Safeway on the way home for groceries and was pleased to find a modern, well stocked store with everything one might find in the lower 48, although at slightly higher prices.  This was actually good news to me.  When I was a resident, I did a rotation in a rural hospital in the remote Alaskan town of Dillingham and remembered that everything was roughly double the cost in stores there.  So the Juneau Safeway seemed like a relative bargain. 

    But my true introduction to the Great White North was to begin about 3 am the following day, when I was awakened by a beeping sound coming from the oil burning stove that heats the house.  The digital readout was flashing "E 14".  So after finding and consulting the manual for this heater, I was directed to make sure that we hadn't run out of heating oil (the tank in the yard proved to be 3/4 full), that the exhaust wasn't obstructed (crawled under the front entryway to find it wide open) and then call for service.

    I elected to just try the stove again but within an hour it was beeping again and I was comically trying to light a fire in the fireplace with discarded paper, a few pine logs, and a barely functioning lighter stick from the kitchen.  The following day I called around to find that only one plumbing and heating company in this town services my brand of stove, and they were happy to make me a service appointment in two weeks. (Apparently I'm not the only one having problems with this brand of stove).  The owner cheerfully noted that burning a load of wood in the fireplace twice a day is usually enough to warm the whole house.  Meanwhile, the weather report on the radio that morning was (and I'm quoting this verbatim--no exaggerating), "It'll be cool and breezy today with gusts up to 75 mph."  I had forgotten about things like "wind chill" in the past few months.

    Now if this were my home (boat), this would be about the time where I start disassembling said stove to see if I could maybe jury rig something to get it running.  But since it's not my home and improper repair could result in unpleasant events ranging from carbon monoxide poisoning to burning the house down, I've left it alone.  Instead, I have taken a multi-pronged approach.  I begged a couple of space heaters from my new partners so it's not quite so ice cold when I come home.  I went straight down to the local trading post and invested in the best pair of long underwear they had.  And I've hearkened back to my Boy Scout days and had a little crash course in fire-building in the past couple of days. 

    So now as I write this, I've just kicked of my Sorel boots after bringing in another armload of dry wood from the woodpile.  I can now reliably start a fire in about 30 seconds with a single match.  I'm relaxing on the sofa with a nice glass of cabernet, dressed in flannel and denim.  The temperature in the house reads 69 degrees, although to be honest, I'm feeling uncomfortably warm.

    Does that make me an Alaskan yet? 



                                                                                                                             created by Steve Erickson 2007-2012
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